Category Archives: actual play

Golden Sky Stories Replay: The Broken Window

Golden Sky Stories is taking even longer than the overly long time it had been taking, mainly on account of Real Life being difficult for us. I’m hoping to finally launch the Kickstarter in early 2013. The layout is now just about done barring a couple of tiny corrections, and we’re close to getting the math lined up for the Kickstarter. In the meantime I’ve got a little treat for anyone who’s been interested in learning more about the game.

The Broken Window” is a Golden Sky Stories replay made from a recording of a game session I ran for some friends a few years back. I put it together in order to give readers some idea of what a typical session is like, though GSS is quite unlike a typical RPG in many ways. The PDF has original art by Sue-chan, layout by Clay Gardner, and copious footnotes to help you understand what’s going on. The story is about how a broken window ultimately led to new friendships.

Download “The Broken Window” (PDF)


An Aside on Writing Replays
This was the first time I typed up a replay. I don’t know that I’ll make a habit of making them (if nothing else in subsequent attempts to record game sessions I started feeling like having a recorder was kind of a jinx or something), but it was an interesting experience all the same. It wasn’t as painstaking and irritating as the transcriptions I did for a linguistics class that one time, but it really exposed the differences between spoken and written language. In face-to-face role-playing we really do use inflection and gesture a lot, things that are hard to capture in writing. This was that much more of a problem because I was trying to transcribe a 2-year-old audio recording. There were times when one of my friends would say something like, “And then I go boop!” and me from 2 years ago totally understood, but in the present I had to guess. It may be our Northern California dialect, but we also say “okay” and “like” a whole lot, and it’s only really obvious when I’m trying to transcribe stuff and every line seems to start with “Okay,” and include an unnecessary “like.” It was a lot of work to type up, but not too bad, especially since the entire recording was only 90 minutes. After doing this, I think I’d like to see more replays in general, because they force you to engage role-playing in a different way, especially if you’re the one doing the writing.


Gamma World Game Day

Having just come back from the official Gamma World Game Day event at the FLGS (Game Kastle in Santa Clara), I decided to blog a bit about it, since the game is pretty intriguing to me.

The new Gamma World uses a simplified and far more random version of the D&D4e rules, and it definitely lived up to GW’s reputation for zaniness. You could tell the designers made a conscious decision to update it, so for a new edition of a game first published in 1978 it feels pretty timely, to the point where it’ll probably look dated ten years from now. (And someone at WotC is definitely a Valve fan.) The box frankly looks a good deal bigger than it needed to be, since the rulebook is a mere 160 pages in a half-size format (just like Essentials). It only goes up to level 10 though, and it drops a lot of the fiddly rules and details (so for example the skills section is something like 3 pages).

Character creation is quick and random. You get two character types by rolling a d20 twice on a chart–I got Giant and Plant–which give you an encounter power each and certain other bonuses (and in the case of Plant, vulnerable 5 fire). Although it’s based on 4e, it drops the use of roles, and characters don’t have all many powers to juggle. You designate one type as primary and the other secondary, and when the time comes to determine attributes you get 18 in the one tied to the primary, 16 in the one tied to the secondary, and 3d6 in the rest (20 if they overlap). The dice were rather unforgiving to my character, so I wound up with 8s and 9s in everything but STR and CON. For all intents and purposes there’s only one “class,” which in D&D terms is average in everything (HP is CON+12, +5/level), and you add your level to things instead of half-level. Also, the character sheet is nicely designed and guides the player through the character creation process pretty well. There’s also a fan-made web-based character generator for it.

One thing I do like about Gamma World is how readily the game lets you reskin pretty much everything into whatever you want. With a Giant Plant I decided my character was Rob the Angry Flower (apologies to Stephen Notley), a giant mutant daisy that ran around smashing things with an old refrigerator (which in game terms was simply a Large Two-Handed Melee Weapon). It wasn’t quite on the level of Mike Mearls having a Seismic Giant be a 12-foot-tall baby, but Rob was fun to play all the same.

As much stupid nerdrage as the optional booster packs have caused, the Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech decks are one of the most fun parts of the game. Both essentially give you new encounter powers, and you get a different mutation for every encounter (and any time you roll a 1 on a d20), and if today’s adventure was any indication the game is pretty generous about letting you uncover new Omega Tech items. In the case of mutations you can also attempt to “overcharge” them. This makes them more powerful on a roll of 10+, but messes you up in some way on a roll of 9 or less. My favorite is the one that boosts your intelligence, but on a low roll you’re Stunned by the stupidity of those around you, though you can also sprout tentacles that might strangle you on a bad roll. While I don’t think the booster packs deserve a tenth of the vitriol they’ve evoked online, I can say with confidence that they’re every bit as optional as I thought, and the game should hum along nicely without them.

It’s hard to say how much was the game itself and how much was the way the module was designed, but it was pretty brutal, and 4 out of 6 PCs died by the end. A big part of this was the relative scarcity of healing compared to D&D proper though. There might be some character types that have healing as a matter of course, but in the party we rolled up healing was pretty much only available when a mutation or tech card happened to provide it, meaning it was woefully lacking at times even with the game’s beefed up version of Second Wind (which restores half your HP with a Minor Action). I am reminded a lot of my gaming group’s first foray into D&D4e, where the lack of a proper leader character was hurting us in a big way at every turn. With the one session Gamma World I probably made more death saves than in the entirety of two years or so of playing D&D.

The game uses cardstock tokens to represent PCs and monsters alike, and given that I’ve very seldom played with miniatures that exactly represent what’s going in the game, I didn’t miss a beat in that respect. The fold-out maps that came with the Game Day module were very much on-par with the stuff that WotC has done elsewhere, though it’s neat to see that stuff applied to relatively contemporary locations, even as we were fighting mutant pigs and cockroaches in them.

I wasn’t at all expecting Gamma World to be a game for long-term play or anything, and my first impression is that it is decidedly in the realm of beer and pretzels gaming. It’s not something you’d want to run a long campaign of (Penny Arcade’s opinion on the matter notwithstanding), but it’s pretty much the perfect game to pull out when your D&D4e group can’t do the regular campaign for whatever reason.

Fiasco: The Big Anime Con

Last week I picked up Fiasco, Jason Morningstar’s latest game, at the local game store. The other day I got to play it for the first time, and it was awesome. Our game involved vehicular manslaughter, a Klingon sword, a poodle being duct-taped, and more. I’ve put together a playset of my own, called “The Big Anime Con,” which is about typical Fiasco insanity taking place at a large anime convention in California. (Because if there was ever a group of people with “powerful ambition & poor impulse control” it’s anime fans.) It’s currently an untested draft, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

The Big Anime Con for Fiasco (PDF)

Divine Machine: Campaign Postmortem

For a while now, something like a year and a half (including the occasional hiatus) I was running an OVA campaign for my friends called “Divine Machine.” It had some issues throughout, and towards the end I was less than happy with it. On the other hand, it was fun more often than not, and I’d like to think last night’s conclusion ended things on a high note.

1. I never really liked any of the PCs. I feel kind of bad for saying it, but it is the truth. This is partly just a matter of taste on my part, of course, but somehow I just didn’t care all that much for any of them. I never outright hated any of them, and they all grew on me to some degree, but still. It didn’t help that none of them tied into the existing setting I had created in any meaningful way (except for the two amnesiacs in the group, but only because I spent hours figuring out their forgotten backstories). The only PC who was truly heroic was also the one who created the most friction in the group, and generally created lots of headaches for me.

2. I got burned out on running a semi-traditional fiat-y game week after week. It’s a style of GM-ing that demands a lot out of me psychologically, and I’m pretty much abandoning it from now on. I’ll occasionally do a Maid RPG session for sheer zaniness and awesome, but otherwise I want to concentrate on games that spread the work around some. After a session of Divine Machine, I would always be drained and irritable, in a way that just wasn’t the case for games like The Shab-al-Hiri Roach or Peerless Food Fighters. The one time I ran DM two nights in a row was absolute murder, and something I never want to experience ever again.

3. The game wound up encompassing too many NPCs and too big of a plot. No matter what the medium, I deal better with more personal stories. In Yuuyake Koyake, for example, you only have one or two, maybe three NPCs in a session, and I can handle them just fine. In Divine Machine it got to the point where we would outright forget someone who was supposed to be present, and I had a hard time giving them all adequate motivations and personality.

4. OVA is good for what it is. I tell people it’s what BESM’s original edition (the little gray book) wanted to be and never quite pulled off. But one thing it shares with BESM: it’s easy to break it with just a little bit of powergaming. In theory a result of 12 on a die roll is unbelievably good, but we wound up having combats where the combat-oriented characters were throwing around results of 20+ regularly, and I had to give NPCs 8+ dice to roll at once just for them to have a fighting chance. If I were to ever use it again (or PDQ for that matter), I would SEVERELY limit the ability to stack traits into one roll. Also, the magic system is pretty much broken as far as I’m concerned. Its balancing factors (a check to make sure the spell works, and an Endurance cost) are much too easy to circumvent.

5. Creatively, I always have more ideas than I know what to do with. One of the nice things about running a game like Divine Machine was that pretty much anything I thought up I could throw into the game in some form. I got to use practically every odd little scrap of an idea for something to put into an RPG I had laying around. That, combined with regularly being the GM, is why unlike some of my friends, I’m not as attracted to being tethered to one player character for a long time, and I don’t personally regard immersion as a priority. It also means that switching games more frequently appeals to me. I’m hoping that in the future we can have a bit of both, with the D&D4e game my friend is running, and a succession of indie games and other experiments and mini-campaigns on the side.

In summary: Divine Machine was a fun ride, but it had all kinds of issues, and I’m glad it’s finally over. I learned a lot from it, albeit sometimes more with regard to what not to do in the future. OVA is neat, but don’t let players who are even remotely interested in gaming the system near the thing.

D&D 4e Actual Play: First Impressions

My group played D&D4e for the first time last night. We have a strange and quirky bunch of characters, but once we got into combat the role-playing part fell away almost completely in favor of figuring out how to use the rules. It was fun, but definitely not the kind of fun I usually play RPGs for.

Anyone who says that 4e characters are “superheroes” is totally full of shit. The heroes’ numbers are higher, but so far even the weakest monsters are consistently vicious and dangerous. Kobolds with slings were dishing out as much as 9 points of damage at a time, where my fighter has 31 hp (the highest in the party). And that’s before we mention the fire beetles. We really had to go all-out using powers, Second Wind, and other little tricks just to avoid a TPK. (Though it doesn’t help that the rogue has a sub-optimal build, something the DM will hopefully let him fix before we play again).

The logistics of playing the game are a bit more intensive too. We played the game with minis and a map, and after doing so I really can’t imagine playing it without them. There’s also the matter of referencing powers, which in turn has us wanting to make cards or worksheets with the necessary info. (This site has links to lots and lots of promising stuff) I found that just writing the page number down on the character sheet (a trick I got from some Japanese RPGs) helped ameliorate the difficulty somewhat, though even with 3 copies of the PHB we were contantly having different people trying to grab a copy to look stuff up. But regardless, the powers were consistently useful, though some more than others. I almost got to use Cleave once, but Sure Strike was very important tactically.

We got through two encounters, so apart from some initial role-playing and killing kobolds, not a whole lot happened that session. However, all my friends who’d played 3.5 marveled at how fast it went.

Update: We wound up playing D&D again and finishing the dungeon on Sunday. I had bought a pack of cardstock (why is it they sell packs of 250 sheets of white cardstock for $12, and packs of 100 sheets in funky colors for $10, but not packs of 100 sheets of white for $4-6?) and printed out power cards for everyone. My friend Tim brought card sleeves to go with them, and they definitely did help. Everyone is also getting to know the rules better and generally adjusting to the attendant paradigm and avoiding stupid mistakes.

The final battle was against a young white dragon. It first used its presence attack ability and its breath weapon, which hobbled half the party with status effects, but once we recovered enough the rogue got his Blinding Barrage off on it, the fighter and paladin flanked it, and we all generally pounded on the thing until it died (though the paladin took a lot of bad hits and was knocked out just before the battle ended).

Random Stuff

I kind of like not trying to have this blog be a series of carefully-constructed articles, because I can do meandering posts like this one. Anyway.

Last night we wound up playing InSpectres for the first time. We’d never played anything quite like it before, and it totally clicked perfectly right away. It helped that Mike was so on top of the GMing part; the GM has less creative control in that game, but IMO is every bit as important, if not more so, to making it happen.

I got to flip through his shiny new copy of BESM3e, which he picked up while he was in Berkeley to see Robotech: Shadow Chronicles (while I was home with a cold and lots of translation work, from which this post is in fact a distraction). Still waiting for my copy to come in the mail from Amazon, but then I paid $26 for it, so I can’t complain. I’m not sure what to say about it, especially since I haven’t really read much of any of it yet, but it seems very much like the game that comes after BESM1e and BESM2e, in good ways and bad ways. There tons of full-color art, though I recognized a lot of it from earlier BESM stuff, from second edition, d20, and various sourcebooks, including covers. It’s all the really over-the-top color CG stuff, naturally. Although there are bigger numbers (stats are 10/level) to deal with, and optional rules for tweaking the hell out of Attributes, it doesn’t seem like it was made all that much more complicated, though I still think OVA will be my go-to game for that kind of thing.

Mike’s co-worker who was joining us for gaming the second time, mentioned about a card game one of his friends had showed him called Thing Game Sucks, which is about participants running out of patience at a bad RPG session. I don’t normally like card games (or board games, or war games), but this one was too intriguing to pass up. I found the (tiny) publisher’s website, and ordered it. I will post about it when it arrives.

The Dictionary of Mu and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach both came in the mail yesterday too. Happy dance. :3

I also wound up coming up with a concept for another, as yet unnamed, anime RPG, which is now starting to come together (just when I’m too busy to really commit much time to it…). More on that later.

Addendum (January 30, 11:38 a.m.)
Just got my copy of BESM3e in the mail (like, the mailman handed me the box from Amazon 5 minutes ago, so I haven’t even opened it just yet. I also gave into temptation and ordered some Japanese TRPGs from Amazon Japan:

  • Alshard ff
  • RuLiLuRa (which I totally can’t say at all)
  • Arianrhod (which was apparently published in a bunko/little paperback format for about 700 yen)
  • The latest issue of Role&Roll, which AFAIK is Japan’s main tabletop RPG magazine.

I also got some manga (Rozen Maiden, Genshiken, and Yotsubato! all came out with new volumes), and caved in and got those “Moe Moe” guides to ancient and modern weapons.


I know there’s maybe four or five people who really read this (Elton, Guy, Mori, and occasionally Jake), but I’m going to go over where things are, admittedly more for my own benefit. This has been a very strange winter break for me, and I’m not totally sure I’m ready for more grad school in the spring, but we’ll see. My fan translation of Maid RPG has kind of gotten sidetracked on account of other, more pressing projects (like translation work that I get paid for).

Probably the biggest thing for me, RPG-wise, is Moonsick. This weird little RPG, inspired by Superflat surrealism, is a possible candidate for the next volume of Push, but it needs a major overhaul from my first draft. Surprisingly helpful thread on it here. Rethinking the game has been a wonderful challenge, and I think I’m moving in the right direction.

At some point I do still want to do the we are flat game anthology, but I’m thinking for that I’ll replace Moonsick with something deliberately aimed at looking at American otaku through a Superflat-like lens. One of the inherent limitations of this project is that I’m an American (if a Japanophile) interpreting these elements of Japanese culture. The similarities and differences between American and Japanese otaku are a source of endless fascination to me, after all.

We also finally had our first real session of Ghostbusters, run by my friend Elton, and it rocked. He honestly keeps impressing me with his GMing skills and creativity, and everyone else was unusually on the ball last night. And my character, an amoral technical guy named Art Griffin, is incredibly fun to play.

Clancy: “Yeah, I’ve flow before. Military vehicles.”
Oswaldo: “Don’t listen to him! He means he’s flown a jeep!

Which leaves just about everything else being neglected. It’s been weeks since I had a chance to look at Tokyo Heroes, much less Thrash 2.0. Hopefully school won’t totally kill my free time.